Jesus never asked his followers to believe WHAT he was. Instead he demanded that they follow his example and commit to the Kingdom of God. When you go back to the original Greek of the New testament you find that the words translated as ‘belief’ actually mean to have commitment and loyalty. Jesus didn’t ask his followers to follow a set of beliefs as to what HE was. Instead he preached a message about the Kingdom of God and in so doing told us what the nature of GOD was.


Jesus spoke in Aramaic and his words were recorded in Greek. For 1500 years the only accepted translation in the West was in Latin and only as we come to the 16C do we start to see modern translations that go back to the original Hebrew & Greek words of the Old and New Testaments respectively. What we risk losing in the change from Aramaic to Greek and then to the particular language in which we in any country speak is nuance. Even if we translate in the most accurate way possible we risk misunderstanding the meaning attributed to words of the day. There is one example of that that is more critical than any other potentially. 

Whenever Jesus uses the words we see translated into the English as “belief” or “faith” the words rendered into the original Greek of the New Testament from the Aramaic that Jesus spoke were ‘pistis’ and ‘pistevo’. ‘Pistis’ is the noun and ‘pistevo’ is its verb, and their meaning is to have commitment & loyalty; and it is not only Jesus whose words are recorded as pistis & pistevo. Whenever one reads of writers like Paul using the words ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ in their letters to the early churches the original Greek invariably turns out to be ‘pistis’ and ‘pistevo’.

In Greek Pistis means to have ‘good faith, trust & reliability’. So in choosing to use the words ‘pistis’ and ‘pistevo’ to translate his words of Aramaic the writers of the Gospels are making it very clear what Jesus is saying. He wants commitment & loyalty to the message he preached. He doesn’t ask his followers to recognise him for BEING something. The change in understanding, from the Greek where Jesus commands loyalty to a ministry centring on the Kingdom of God to an understanding in English, French, German etc that Jesus was asking people to believe in him in the manner we would understand, dates back to the time when writers were translating the books of the Bible into Latin. With no Latin equivalent of the verb ‘pistevo’ translators used words that changed Jesus’ meaning from commitment and loyalty to an intellectual belief.

Fundamentally Jesus is bothered about how you behave and whether you live by the Kingdom of God/Heaven (in Matthew’s gospel he substitutes Heaven for God’ because he was writing to Jews and Jews wouldn’t say the name of God – but they mean the same thing in this instance) rather than believing that he WAS something. The measure therefore of whether you are a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, or Christian, is how you treat people not whether you assent to a belief in Jesus as the Son of God. By extension one can postulate that an atheist can be more Christian than a believer because it’s your actions which really matter.

Categories: Q&A